Team 17 and Stormind Games team up for a quest of interplanetary proportions releasing on October 20th. Batora: Lost Haven is an isometric action RPG that combines fast-paced, skill-swapping combat with a choice-driven story spanning a vast cosmos. After a cataclysmic event, Earth was driven to the brink of complete destruction. The remaining inhabitants are forced to carve out a way to survive as best they can. You play as Avril, a thrill-seeking teenager with a troubled past, chosen to be the vessel of the deities Sun and Moon and wielder of their supernatural powers. With these new abilities and the support of best friend Mila, Avril must journey across alien planets to save her home.
Duality Shaping Destiny
Isometric action RPGs are a sizeable (and ever-growing) section of my gaming library. Ones with a strong story or interesting combat mechanics are an instant draw. Not to mention ones with bright, colourful visuals! And, having sampled its engaging demo earlier in the year, I was keen to see how Batora had further evolved.
This is a press preview build, so some bugs were present during play and certain things may differ from the final release.
The main focus of the gameplay is mastering Avril’s Sun and Moon abilities in combat and in solving puzzles. Sun’s powers are melee-centric with a fiery sword while Moon’s mental abilities are ranged attacks with projectiles. Switching styles on the fly is key to taking down various foes, the control scheme changing from button combos to twin-stick shooter action. There are also two different view modes, a bird’s eye style and one closer in, which you can switch between. This takes a little getting used to and can get very intense in close quarters. But once you’ve got the knack, it’s a lot of fun. A controller is definitely the most effective way to play, though I found having the ‘Switch Nature’ toggle assigned to the A button a little disorienting and difficult to implement. Thankfully it’s easy to reassign the controls as you like – a shoulder button worked much better!
One of the most enjoyable gameplay aspects of Batora is the implementation of Runes. Along the way, Avril will obtain many different runes that will affect her Sun and Moon abilities with different buffs/penalties. These can be equipped with Karma Points dictated by her choices—more on those in a moment—and can be combined however you like. Providing you have the points, there’s a huge amount of freedom to play around with different combinations of runes which is intensely satisfying.
Puzzles predominantly consist of platform and timing-based conundrums which also test your mastery of switching between Sun and Moon states. These start off enjoyable to solve, but the frequency of the same kind of puzzle can soon become a little repetitive. And I love a good puzzle. One memory puzzle stood out simply as it was the only puzzle of its nature and quite refreshing.
On her quest, Avril journeys across different planets centred around a different element. In this build, you primarily explore the planets of Gryja and Huav (earth and air); screenshots suggest there will also be water and fire planets in the final release. As Avril interacts with the inhabitants and completes tasks, she is faced with pivotal choices that shape the outcome of the worlds. While they are set up to be morally difficult choices, sadly they don’t quite carry the emotional weight they should do for a couple of reasons. And this is coming from someone who gets extremely nervous if a character so much as looks at her funny.
Firstly there are no side quests to complete and much of the planets’ (and characters’) lore is either in a codex entry or only briefly mentioned. In fact, some key aspects of Avril’s character are only explained in the codex and are not mentioned at any other point. So it’s quite jarring when they suddenly come up in conversation with no previous mentions. Secondly, not quite enough time is spent exploring the relationships with certain characters, so the connections feel quite forced. Dedicating more to this and learning the lore firsthand would strengthen them, particularly in the later stages of both planets.
Some drastic tonal changes and speech patterns in characters’ lines can also take you out of the moment. In one line Avril’s language is sarcastic and witty, the next it’s as if she has spent centuries as the Chosen One. Certain words definitely feel at odds with her character. The inhabitants of Huav sometimes speak in double-barreled words when describing things, like “dangerous-deadly”. It certainly gives them a unique speech pattern, but some of the word choices don’t quite gel and make more serious moments harder to take seriously.
Graphics & Audio
Aside from an occasional framerate drop, the graphics and animation are smooth and pleasing to look at. The visual styles for both hub worlds lend themselves nicely: Gryja feels carved from subterranean stone peppered with giant crystal clusters and Huav is a wind-swept desert with sand sculptures and floating islands. However, this works a little too well in places. While the locales are striking, some areas and NPCs are a tad lacking in definition, even when you switch to the zoomed-in view. Not that they are graphically subpar or badly animated – simply, they just blend together. Luckily, key NPCs and merchants have overhead markers both in the world and on the minimap. Otherwise, there is little to distinguish them from the scenery.
Conversely, the character art during conversations is superbly defined and brimming with personality. A strong graphic novel feel comes through with strong linework and dynamic colours and shading. You could easily picture Issue #1 of Batora: Lost Haven. Avril’s eyes have a cheeky sparkle behind them, Mila has a smile to warm the coldest temperament and Sun and Moon have otherworldly energy keeping their many parts together. The cutscenes too are well animated and sometimes feature quite epic sequences.
From the audio side, the voice acting is strong. Performances are on point for the most part, particularly Avril and Mila. Some of the delivery is questionable, but this generally coincides with the aforementioned tonal shifts and speech patterns. The soundtrack is solid; certain areas and boss themes stood out with beautiful vocals and minor keys. There were times though when the default music volume threatened to drown out the speech, so some adjustments were needed before continuing.
On average, this build had around 5 – 6 hours of playtime, covering two (of the assumed four) planets. The length of the whole experience will of course depend on various things: the difficulty of the later planets, the inclusion of side-quests/NPC interactions etc. There is definitely replay value in going back and making different choices to see the different outcomes. But so far there are few pivotal choices to make and thus can be wrapped up fairly swiftly.
While there is a lot to enjoy in this build, there is still a sense of something missing. Batora: Lost Haven has all the solid foundations of being an engrossing experience and here’s hoping they will be expanded upon. However, without those aspects to give choices more weight and the world more depth, it’s difficult to remain wholly absorbed. Even with a zoomed-out isometric view, you still want to feel completely connected to the world you’re in and the characters you’re inhabiting. Especially when the worlds look so rich and inviting.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.